So the first thing I want to do is talk a little bit about D20 games. Specifically in the modern 5e environment.
The good people at Wizards of the Coast has published their System Resources Documents for free. They’ll tell you everything you need to know about characters, and life, and actions in a 5e D20 world.
If you have ever wanted to pick up a pen, some paper, and get a friend or six together, you can also grab a copy of the Basic Rules for free too!
But all of that is a bit advanced. For the purpose of Sammi’s Quest all you need to know is that she abides strictly to the rules. Every action she hopes to take is government by two things: the choice she makes, and the roll of a die.
The die is central to the D20 system. And, for the uninitiated (because everyone has a first time sometime) a D20 is a twenty sided die.
There are other dice, a D4, D8, D10, D12, and a D100 (the D100 is normally rolled using two D10s. One has 0-9, and the other 00-90).
Of course the classic D6 that you know and love is also use. And very rarely the tricky D3 gets mentioned (rolling a D6 and dividing the result in two is how all but the very clever obtain this result).
So what makes the D20 so important if you need lots of other dice too? Well, the D20 is the agent of fate in aa 5e D20 world. Whenever you want to do something the roll of the D20 lets you know how well, or how poorly, you performed.
Each action has a Difficulty Class associated with it. They range from:
- 5 – Very Easy (climb a ladder)
- 10 – Easy Task (climb a knotted rope)
- 15 – Moderate (climb a tall tree trunk)
- 20 – Hard (climb a rocky wall)
- 25 – Very Hard (climb a sheer cliff with few hand holds)
- 30 – Nearly Impossible (climb up a sheer cliff, covered in ice)
Everything someone does, that has even the slightest chance of going wrong, has a Difficulty Class (DC). Things that can’t fail don’t need a DC. For example, brushing your teeth in your bathroom… Odds are you’ll be just fine. No dice roll is required.
However, were you brushing your teeth in a canoe, with some light waves… Well, you’d probably be fine, but who knows? It seems very easy, so that task would have a DC5, and require a D20 to be rolled.
If you rolled a 5 or higher (meets it, beats it) you have accomplished your task. If you roll a 20, sometimes something extra special happens… Like you end up with the whitest teeth on the whole lake! Maybe a fish spots them and jumps into your boat, dazzled by their gleaming.
Now, if you rolled a 4 or lower, well… Maybe things don’t work out so well. But, before you tip into the water, there’s a few more things to do.
You may have noticed that some of the DCs are higher than 20, and since a D20 can’t roll higher than 20, how can anyone possibly hope to achieve those numbers?
Each person in a D20 5e world is rules by six primary attributes that govern who they are, what they’re good at, what what their areas of need might be.
- Strength (How strong they are)
- Dexterity (How good their reflexes are)
- Constitution (How tough they are)
- Intelligence (How much they know)
- Wisdom (How well they can apply the things they know)
- Charisma (How personable the individual is)
These stats can range from 1 to 20. An average person would have 10 for each stat, but Sammi is no average elf! She began her adventures with the following statistics:
- Strength 8 (She may not be strong, but that has never held her back!)
- Dexterity 17 (Growing up in the forest led her to specialize climbing tall trees, swinging through branches, and reacting quickly to danger.)
- Constitution 10 (She may not be the toughest, but with reaction times like hers, she doesn’t need to be.)
- Intelligence 12 (Sammi knows a thing or two, but there’s a lot more for her to learn.)
- Wisdom 14 (She won’t be falling for any lies that easy – but a skilled wordsmith would still be able to trick her.)
- Charisma 14 (She’s a likable Elf, that much is for sure.)
Each of these numbers affects the roll of a die. There are bonuses for every two numbers higher than 10, and negatives for every number or two lower. Below you’ll see how the numbers affect the die roll:
- 1 [-5]
- 2 – 3 [-4]
- 4 – 5 [-3]
- 6 – 7 [-2]
- 8 – 9 [-1]
- 10 – 11 
- 12 – 13 [+1]
- 14 – 15 [+2]
- 16 – 17 [+3]
- 18 – 19 [+4]
- 20 [+5]
Of course, this means that every action that has a DC needs to be connected to one of those primary stats. I think that brushing your teeth in a canoe would be governed by Dexterity, so if Sammi were trying to brush her teeth in a canoe, she’d add her Dexterity modifier. Since she has 17 Dexterity, she’d add +3 to her die roll.
This means that even if a 2 was rolled, Sammi would be fine, because 2+3 = 5. However, if the unthinkable should happen, and a one was rolled, even Sammi would splash into the cool lake.
Now, there’s just one more thing to know:
The Basic Skills
There are other ways for characters to gain bonuses. Sometimes characters may not be that strong, but they may have trained in areas that require strength. If that’s the case, and the action is related to the skill, they may gain bonuses, or mitigate their lack of strength. The skills are:
Athletics (Running, jumping, lifting broken carts from poor merchants)
Acrobatics (Flipping through the air, landing difficult jumps, swinging on ropes)
Stealth (Being very, very, quiet)
Thieve’s Tools (Disarming traps, and picking locks)
Arcana (Identifying magic, and knowing about its uses)
History (Remembering details about things from long ago)
Investigation (Searching for clues)
Nature (Knowing about plants, and creatures)
Religion (Identifying symbols, and recalling myths and legends)
Animal Handling (Whispering to beasts, Controlling wild horses)
Insight (Sussing out a liar and a cheat)
Medicine (Helping and healing others, using the right herbs and tools)
Perception (Finding small things hidden amongst the clutter)
Survival (Finding fresh water, sustaining food, navigating trails and dungeons)
Deception (Lying with great success)
Intimidation (Makings others fear your)
Performance (Entertaining the masses)
Persuasion (Using kind words and diplomacy to attain your goals)
Training in these areas can be the difference between falling into the water, or staying dry. Even if someone were to rock the boat, brushing their teeth, a DC10 Acrobatics check might allow them to stabilize themselves before they meet the cool, dark, water.
All this information is recorded on a Character Sheet. You can see Sammi’s Character Sheet here. Anything she tries to do will be governed by the roll of the dice, and her specific modifiers.
And that’s all there is to it. Numbers, dice, and actions.
One More Thing
It’s worth remembering that everyone and everything in a D20 5e world is governed by the same rules. If someone were to try and lie to Sammi with a +3 in deception, and the die was an 11, Sammi’s insight + D20 would need to equal or beat 14.
Likewise, should violence break out, defense is determined by Armor Class (AC) which is shown at the top of the Character Sheet. Sammi’s is 16. A basic punch would be Strength modifier + D20. If that total was higher than 16 Sammi would be injured! If it’s lower she either dodged, or absorbed the damage with her armor.